Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (2023)

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  • August 9th, 2019
Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (1)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.— Believe it or not, food isn’t only found on grocery store shelves and farms.

It’s all around, even in the average backyard.

In Alabama, there are numerous types of edible plants and fungi growing wild.

Dr. Michael R. McKain, assistant professor of biological sciences and curator of The University of Alabama Herbarium, said Alabama is one of the most biodiverse states in the nation, and with that comes a plethora of wild eats.

Historically, ancient people discovered what was edible by trial and stomach-churning error.

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“Our knowledge of what we can eat is based on thousands of years of people doing just that,” McKain said. “When people were hungry, they tried different things and found out what was edible.People have been smart enough to know to try a little bit of something rather than a lot. There’s not a lot of things that can kill you straight up by taking a nibble, it just may make you really sick.”

Today, wild foraging is growing again in popularity. But with that come words of precaution. If anyone intends to engage in legal wild foraging, there are some rules to follow to keep safe.

“Never ever eat anything that you’re not 100 percent sure you know what it is,” McKain said. “One of the best ways to learn is to go out with people who know which plants are safe to eat.

“Also, be mindful and respectful of the property you’re on. Are you allowed to forage on that property?

McKain also cautions people to be mindful of where plants are growing. If it’s a location that gets sprayed a lot by pesticides or weed killers or is growing on the side of the road where car exhaust hits it, wild edibles in that area should be avoided.

Below is a list of wild items often consumed and one item McKain cautions against consuming:

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Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (2)

1. May berries/Huckleberries/Deer berries/Blueberries
“These are very common,” McKain said. “May berries, huckleberries, deer berries and blueberries are all names for species in the blueberry genus. People can go to the UA Arboretum and see them – not pick or eat them there – where they’re labeled. The blueberries are large and blue with a waxy coat, like you see in the grocery. Deer berries are smaller and dark purple, sometimes black. I think they taste better than blueberries. It’s a deep, complex flavor. In the South, huckleberries and may berries refer to some of the same species and are a bit smaller than blueberries and more purple.”

2. Dewberries/Blackberries
“These are basically weeds. You can find them growing all over the place. Dewberries and blackberries are two different groups of species in the same genus. I see dewberries commonly on campus, but they taste the same as blackberries. I cannot think of anything you’d misidentify them with that’s dangerous. Dewberries grow as trailing brambles while blackberries are upright or high-arching.”

Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (3)

3. PawPaw
“Pawpaws are pretty awesome, one of my favorites. They’re a native tree, and the largest, native edible fruit in North America. They are also known as custard apples. They have a flavor like bananas, mango or pineapple. Very tropical tasting, but they are not related to any of these well-known fruits. Their closest relatives are tropical, but they are relatives of magnolia trees. Pawpaws were cultivated by Native Americans and eaten by early presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They’re edible raw and can grow to be 35-foot tall trees. They flower in the spring with blood red flowers, and the fruit will come in the fall. They’re half a foot long and three inches wide.”

Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (4)

4. Dandelions
“You can eat dandelion greens. They’re pretty good for you. The big issue is that they’re sprayed because they’re weeds. You can make wine out of them or a tea. You can also buy them in some grocery stores, but you can find them all over the place. They’re very bitter. People sauté and blanch them. Prepare it like you would kale.”

Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (5)

5. Pokeweed
“They’re poisonous. Some medicinal uses are known, but I wouldn’t recommend people eating pokeweed. Why take the chance? It has a red stem and can grow up to six feet tall. It will have white flowers that become dark purple berries in big clusters.”

Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (6)

6. Wild/Mock Strawberries
“The strawberries you buy in the grocery store are a cross between our wild strawberries and one from the Pacific coast. If you have a weed in your yard, however, it’s probably a mock strawberry. They like shaded areas. Don’t eat those. The true wild strawberries taste like strawberries you have eaten from the store. The mock strawberries have yellow flowers while true wild strawberries have white flowers. Mock strawberries point up, but true wild strawberries hang.”

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Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (7)

7. Wild Pecans/Hickory Nuts
“These two are in the same family. The ones we buy in grocery stores are grown in orchards, and they’re of mixed genotypes. There are about ten hickory species in Alabama, not including pecans. The nuts have an outer layer that will often leave an aromatic residue on your hands. The nut “meat” will look like a walnut. Be careful not to confuse these with buckeyes, which should not be eaten. Many members of this group are eaten. This family, which includes walnuts, grows on trees with large, aromatic leaves that are pinnately compound and alternate.

Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (8)

8. Acorns
“Acorns have to be processed to eat. They have a lot of tannins in them, named as they were used to tan leathers. Tannins are for protection and found in a lot of different plants. Acorns have to be leached in boiling water. The water will turn brown. The brown water is removed and replaced with fresh boiling water. This is repeated until the water is clear. After this, acorns are often roasted and can be used in various recipes.”

Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (9)

9. Muscadines
“They are in the grape family and grow everywhere. They’re almost weedy, growing on vines (or lianas – woody vines) that grow on trees. It’s pretty noticeable by its leaf shape – heart shaped – as they look like grape leaves. The berries off of them – grapes are berries – are bigger than the ones you buy at the grocery store. They have a lot of seeds in them. You can buy them in farmers’ markets or collect them yourself. They’re dark purple. You can eat them whole.”

Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (10)

10. Morels
“Find someone who knows what they’re doing, and don’t take any chances with these. If you can find them, they’re delicious. They’re the best fried mushrooms you’re going to taste in your life. You can sometimes find ‘mushroom-hunting foraging groups,’ which will have folks that know what to look for. Always go with someone who knows what they’re doing. I wouldn’t try it by myself because you can get really sick if you eat the wrong mushroom. People may not tell you where their morel foraging spot is, as they are usually a closely guarded secret. They may just give you some, but morels can be found in wooded areas. The fungus is a network of cells that are like roots. They grow and digest/eat whatever they’re growing in. We eat their reproductive structures -mushrooms.”

Wild Eats – Foraging for Your Grub – University of Alabama News (11)

To discover every edible plant that grows in Alabama and how to identify them, find some Southeastern field guides. Or, talk to folks that actively forage.

“The rule is, if you are unsure, don’t eat it,” McKain said. “But if you want to really figure it out, find someone like me – a botanist – and email us photos asking what something is.”

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  • College of Arts and Sciences


Dr. Michael McKain, mrmckain@uga.edu, 205-348-1826

(Video) Learn to Forage Wild Edibles with Sam Thayer and Robin Greenfield


Jamon Smith, UA communications, jamon.smith@ua.edu, 205-348-4956

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.


Is foraging legal in Alabama? ›

The current rule, which I believe applies to all Alabama State Parks is no foraging in any form, whether that be plants, mushrooms, or fruit.

What time of year is best for foraging? ›

July offers a wealth of wild food for foragers, with treats like wild strawberries, chanterelles and yarrow ready to pick.
  • October. While summer bears fruit and berries, it's the autumn when you'll be able to enjoy the rich variety of nuts growing in our woodlands. ...
  • November. ...
  • December.
Jul 20, 2020

What are the rules of foraging? ›

Responsible foraging guidelines
  • Minimise damage. Take no more than you plan to consume. ...
  • Seek permission. ...
  • Know what you're picking. ...
  • Only collect from plentiful populations. ...
  • Leave plenty behind. ...
  • Do not collect rare species. ...
  • Wild plants and the law. ...
  • Further advice and information.

Is foraging considered hunting? ›

Foraging means relying on food provided by nature through the gathering of plants and small animals, birds, and insects; scavenging animals killed by other predators; and hunting. The word foraging can be used interchangeably with “hunting and gathering.”

Does hunting count as foraging? ›

Well, in the most simple terms it means to, “search widely for food or provisions”. In that sense of the word, foraging could include hunting and fishing, but generally, it's most often used to refer to the gathering side of 'hunting and gathering'.

What plants are illegal to grow in Alabama? ›

Alabama Invasive Plant Council
Subject NameScientific NameFamily
alligatorweedAlternanthera philoxeroides (Mart.) Griseb.Amaranthaceae
giant salviniaSalvinia molesta D. S. MitchellSalviniaceae
Canada thistleCirsium arvense (L.) Scop.Asteraceae
tree-of-heavenAilanthus altissima (P. Mill.) SwingleSimaroubaceae
87 more rows

What is the most poisonous plant in Alabama? ›

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens) are the most commonly encountered poisonous plants in the area that can result in skin irritation/allergic reaction,” said Nancy Loewenstein, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System specialist.

Can you live off foraging? ›

It would take a lot of time to find enough food to survive each day. Occasionally there would be a bonanza of something, like a grape harvest, but most of the time it would take a lot of time to find enough to live off.

Which profession is better for foraging? ›

Hands down, the best Foraging Professions are Gatherer at Level 5 and Botanist at Level 10. This is especially true when raising Pigs. The Truffles that these Pigs find will always be iridium quality, and the player will pick up two Truffles instead of one 20% of the time.

What is the golden rule of foraging? ›

Always pick in moderation from plentiful populations.

Take no more than you plan to consume and try to spread your foraging over a wide area, rather than pick all plants of any species in the same patch. Make sure there is enough for wildlife to survive and to ensure plants can regenerate and reproduce.

Is foraging illegal in the US? ›

State and local governments have their own rules. Many states—including Arkansas and California—prohibit nearly all foraging on state-owned lands. But other states—such as Alaska and Hawaii—tend to allow the practice. New York City, like many municipalities, prohibits all foraging in city parks.

Why did people stop foraging? ›

With the beginnings of the Neolithic Revolution about 12,000 years ago, when agricultural practices were first developed, some groups abandoned hunter-gatherer practices to establish permanent settlements that could provide for much larger populations.

What are the two types of foraging? ›

Foraging can be categorized into two main types. The first is solitary foraging, when animals forage by themselves. The second is group foraging.

Why do foragers rarely own land? ›

One reason for this is that foragers have a different perspective on private property. Foraging societies tend to move their camps frequently to exploit various resources, so holding on to a lot of personal possessions or “wealth” is impractical. Foragers also place a high cultural value on generosity.

Is farming better than foraging? ›

The latter have a more powerful build and healthier appearance. There are other factors that affect the survival prospects of the two groups, though. Agriculturists typically store food; hunter-gatherers do not. So even if their diet and health is worse, the agriculturists are better able to survive bad times.

When can you start foraging? ›

Foraging can be done year round. If you are waiting for spring and summer to forage, you're missing out the abundance nature has to offer all year round. Sometimes – as with sweet cicely – a little goes a long way. One stem can flavor a whole dish.

Is foraging a hobby? ›

When foragers go for a walk, they notice all those little things, the edibles and decorative plants that they can bring into their homes. Foraging is a hobby that's growing in popularity, from those who live in the country to urban adventurers.

Is foraging a good idea? ›

*Foraging is a great way to get more vegetables into your diet. Not only are you getting the health benefits of fresh vegetables, but you can also supplement your diet with wild herbs and plants that you may not find in the grocery store!

What is the fastest growing tree in Alabama? ›

Record-breaking growth

The Empress Splendor (botanical name Paulownia fortunei and P. elongata) is the one of the fastest-growing trees in the world. A hardwood, it can grow 10-20 feet in its first year and reaches maturity within 10 years. This picture shows a 2 year old tree grown in Alabama.

What plants are poisonous in Alabama? ›

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are common species of poisonous plants found in Alabama.

What is the largest crop in Alabama? ›

CommodityPlanted All Purpose AcresHarvested Acres
CORN, GRAIN340,000
29 more rows

What plant causes the most deaths? ›

Tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year, making it perhaps the most deadly plant in the world.

What is the most toxic plant to humans? ›

Gardeners frequently employ the castor oil plant in their displays, however it contains the poison ricin, which can be fatal if consumed. The Guinness World Records consider it the world's most poisonous common plant.

Can plants know they are being eaten? ›

According to a new study from the University of Missouri, plants are able to sense when they are being eaten and utilize defense mechanisms in an attempt to prevent it from happening. Plants recognize the sound of herbivores feeding on their leaves, and then use their tissues to send our vibrations.

Is it illegal to take wild plants? ›

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is unlawful to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier.

Are plants alive when eaten? ›

Unlike animals, plants are made up of many separate parts or modules — leaves and branches, fruits and roots — that can continue to metabolize and survive more or less independently, at least for some time. Even after they've been harvested and cut from one another, their cells remain active and alive.

What is forage poisoning? ›

Poisoning happens when excess nitrogen builds up in the lower part of some forages, which can happen despite good fertility and management decisions by producers, Scheidt says. Drought, too much manure or commercial fertilizer, and cold or cloudy weather lead to excess nitrates.

How can you tell if wild food is poisonous? ›

Before taking a bite, touch the plant to your lips to test for burning or itching. If there's no reaction after 15 minutes, take a small bite, chew it, and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. If the plant tastes very bitter or soapy, spit it out and wash out your mouth.

Where is it legal to forage in the US? ›

Picking fruits, nuts, and mushrooms is usually legal in US National Forests. To learn more, check out this map of National Forests and click on the forest name for more information. Harvesting plants, fungi, and other items is generally allowed in Bureau of Land Management areas.

How much do foragers make? ›

What Is the Average Professional Food Forager Salary by State
StateAnnual SalaryMonthly Pay
South Dakota$44,488$3,707
46 more rows

What is the most important food source for survival? ›

#1 – Grains. Grains are a great way to provide foundational nutrients and calories to a survival diet. Including a variety of grains will diversify the nutrients in your diet. Some grains are easier to prepare than others.

What replaced foraging? ›

During the Neolithic period, hunter-gatherers roamed the natural world, foraging for their food. But then a dramatic shift occurred. The foragers became farmers, transitioning from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled one.

What is the level 5 foraging option? ›

The Forester profession becomes available to Stardew Valley players once they get to level five in foraging. If players choose it, they will gain 25% more wood from chopping down trees, stumps, and logs.

What is the most demanding job in agriculture? ›

Top Careers in Agriculture
  • Agricultural engineer. ...
  • Agricultural economist. ...
  • Farm manager. ...
  • Soil and plant scientist. ...
  • Conservation planner. ...
  • Commercial Horticulturalist. ...
  • Agricultural salesperson.

What is the rule of thumb for foraging? ›

Another general rule of thumb when foraging is to not exhaust all of the food in a given area, or from a single plant. In other words, don't be greedy! Make sure you leave some goodies for the people and animals that come after you. Along these lines, make sure you're collecting from a public place.

What are the four keys to a successful foraging group? ›

To be a successful foraging group, there are 4 keys to your success, according to David Christian. What are they?
  • Physiological needs. This is the need to protect one's physical state. ...
  • Safety needs. ...
  • Social needs. ...
  • Esteem needs. ...
  • Self-actualization.

What are the three foraging behavior of plants? ›

Three patterns emerge: (a) Plants alter root placement in response to many diverse cues; (b) species respond differently to these cues; and (c) there are nonadditive responses to multiple cues, indicating that plants exhibit complex multidimensional root foraging strategies.

What crops are illegal in the US? ›

Regulations promulgated under these laws are found in the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically in CFR 319. Prohibited plants include such valuable crops and natural flora as apples, bamboo, citrus, elms, grapes, grasses, maples, peaches, potatoes, rice, sweet potato, and sugarcane.

Do ramps grow in Alabama? ›

Many think of ramps as a northern plant, but you can find them at higher elevations in northern Alabama and Georgia.

What plant is illegal to grow in the US? ›

Papaver somniferum (Opium Poppy)

Papaver somniferum (opium poppy) contains the opium that's needed to create powerful narcotics, and the D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Agency) forbids it from being grown on U.S. soil.

How many humans rely on foraging today? ›

Food production took over to such an extent that, in the past few hundred years, only an estimated 5 million people have subsisted by foraging. But while the numbers of recent hunter-gatherers may be relatively small, that does not mean that food production inevitably becomes the dominant economic strategy.

Why are farmers better than hunter-gatherers? ›

Farming, for them, was the way out of the miserable life of hunting and gathering. They were no longer at the mercy of unpredictable nature—they could control it and maintain a stable food supply.

Did hunter-gatherers live longer than farmers? ›

In his review1 of Clark Spencer Larsen's book Skeletons in Our Closet: Revealing the Past through Bioarchaeology, Christopher Wills concludes that “overall health was reduced by . . . the introduction of agriculture”. He notes that there is little evidence that farmers lived longer than hunter–gatherers.

What plants are illegal in Alabama? ›

Alabama Invasive Plant Council
Subject NameScientific NameFamily
alligatorweedAlternanthera philoxeroides (Mart.) Griseb.Amaranthaceae
giant salviniaSalvinia molesta D. S. MitchellSalviniaceae
Canada thistleCirsium arvense (L.) Scop.Asteraceae
tree-of-heavenAilanthus altissima (P. Mill.) SwingleSimaroubaceae
87 more rows

Is it legal to eat roadkill in Alabama? ›

Alabama law limits roadkill salvage to non-protected animals and game animals during open season, though enforcement of other pickups is not common.

Can you forage anywhere? ›

The simple answer is yes. You can forage anywhere on public land. Private land is a different matter – you would need the permission of the landowner. That said, some landowners are more than happy for foragers to visit, if they act in a responsible manner (more about that in a bit).

Are edibles illegal in Alabama? ›

Flower and edibles are banned in Alabama. Form factors for medical marijuana are limited to: Creams.

Can you forage for money? ›

Because people all over the world are making serious cash foraging wild delicacies. Sometimes, even as much as $300 an hour, if they're harvesting an especially prized plant in an area rife with them. Stinging nettles is one example of a plant that's plentiful in the woods.

Can you forage in a local park? ›

State and local governments have their own rules. Many states—including Arkansas and California—prohibit nearly all foraging on state-owned lands. But other states—such as Alaska and Hawaii—tend to allow the practice. New York City, like many municipalities, prohibits all foraging in city parks.

Is it illegal to hit a deer and drive off in Alabama? ›

No, it is NOT illegal to hit a deer and drive off. No one will sue you for fleeing the scene – unless there is property damage or injury. Even if not required, reporting the collision is the right thing to do.

Can you pick up roadkill in Alabama? ›

Alabama: Only non-protected animals and game animals hit and killed during the open season may be kept. Alaska: Individuals are not allowed to keep roadkilled animals, but moose, caribou, and other species may be distributed through volunteer organizations. Arizona: Big-game animals are collectible with a permit.

Is it OK to eat roadkill deer? ›

For those of you who were unable to harvest a deer this year or who need some supplemental meat for their freezer, roadkill might be solution you didn't know you needed. The thought of eating an animal you find on the side of the road might make you squeamish but it can be perfectly safe to eat roadkill.

Is it illegal to pick blackberries? ›

You can pick blackberries and make jam, but you can't then sell the jam at a country fair or serve up your pickings in a paid-for meal. In practical terms it really comes down to a common sense attitude of foraging responsibly and leaving some fungi, fruit or foliage behind when picking.

Is it legal to pick wild garlic? ›

Please note that as with all foraging, you'll need the landowner's permission and should only ever pick as much as you need. It is illegal to dig the wild garlic plant up by its roots, however much of it there is, on common ground.


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